The Guardian August 23, 2000

Indonesian military build-up in West Papua

Following recent moves towards independence in West Papua, the 
Indonesian armed forces are preparing a violent response, with the 
introduction of new Indonesian troops into West Papua and the arming of 
anti-independence militias. West Papuan leaders are calling on the 
international community to speak out against this militarisation.

Between 29 May and 4 June 2000, the Second Papuan People's Congress was 
held to discuss the issue of a transitional government for West Papua (the 
western half of the island of New Guinea, which has been occupied by 
Indonesia since the 1960s).

Over 3,000 West Papuans attended the People's Congress in the capital 
Jayapura (Port Numbay), including representatives from the central 
government and provincial administration, Papuan leaders living in exile, 
supporters of the OPM (Free Papua Movement) as well as observers from other 
parts of Indonesia.

The Congress issued a Declaration of Independence on June 4, 2000. 
Independence activists stressed West Papua has been independent since 
December 1961 and that the subsequent Indonesian take-over through the 1969 
Act of Free Choice was illegal.

Indonesia has responded with a major military build up. In the first week 
of August 2000, about 500 KOSTRAD (Land Command Strategic Troops) were 
deployed to each of the 13 regencies in West Papua (amounting to 6,500 new 

The troops were deployed six hours after Indonesian President Wahid's 
statement to the Indonesian Parliament outlining his willingness to offer 
West Papua autonomy, but not independence.

On August 8, Indonesia's MPR (Provisional Peoples Consultative Assembly) 
agreed to reject the West Papuan Congress demands for independence, and 
instead to grant autonomy to West Papua.

Indonesian troops normally based in West Papua include several thousand 
regular and special forces (Kopassus) troops. Indonesia is also planning a 
new naval base for 3,000 marines in the district of Sorong in West Papua.

There are also plans, announced in July, to send 2,000 troops of the police 
mobile brigade (Brimob) from Jakarta.

Already, the Indonesian military are supporting the creation of new anti-
independence militias in West Papua, such as the pro-Jakarta Satgas Merah 
Putih (Red and White Taskforce  the colours of the Indonesian flag).

In 1999, this tactic led to massive human rights violations in East Timor, 
and the death of thousands. The OPM (Free Papua Movement) fears that the 
Indonesian military is bringing guns from overseas to provoke West Papuans 
into responding with violence.

West Papuan NGOs and churches call for support:

This year, thousands have also died in clashes in Maluku, in militia 
attacks supported by elements of the Indonesian military.

There is an urgent need for the international community to act to halt a 
similar tragedy in West Papua.

Melanesian countries (through the Melanesian Spearhead Group) and the wider 
Pacific community (through the South Pacific Forum) can play an important 
role in the peaceful resolution of the current crisis.

West Papuan activist Jacob Rumbiak writes: "West Papuans urgently request 
international institutions, especially the United Nations, to protect West 
Papuans in West Papuan territory, so that another human disaster in the 
Indonesian Republic can be contained.

"West Papuans hope that the international community will not wait until 
West Papua is destroyed by the Indonesian Government (that is still 
dominated by its own military) before it addresses the rapidly 
deteriorating situation.

"West Papuans consider that direct intervention is the duty of the United 
Nations, which must protect indigenous West Papuans. The problem is not an 
`internal' political problem, but rather one that has to be addressed by 
the international community. Thank you for your attention. Please help 
avoid our disaster."

Senior church and NGO leaders in Jayapura have issued a statement seeking 
international support.

They call on the Indonesian Government to respect "the right of Papua 
people to call themselves Papuans and to unfurl their flag. We vigorously 
protest against the policy of the government, in this reform era, to 
repress this....

"We feel that the right of all people individually and collectively to 
express their opinions should be respected, and this includes the right of 
Papua people to call themselves Papuans and to unfurl their flag."

The statement calls for the government, both civilian as well as the TNI 
and police, and the regional government to respect the principle of 
dialogue and to immediately withdraw the newly arrived non-organic troops. 

"We are totally convinced that violence will never resolve our problem; on 
the contrary it will only bring new problems."

Instead, the statement calls for dialogue with the Papuan people to resolve 
the conflict.

"We should do everything possible to restrain ourselves so that we are not 
dragged into violent conflict, which can only result in loss of life and 
property for the ordinary civilians."

It is not too late for the international community to act.

The Australian government can play an important role in the peaceful 
resolution of the current crisis.

How to help

Ask the Australian Government to support efforts to carry the issue of West 
Papua to international bodies, such as the South Pacific Forum (in Kiribati 
in October 2000), the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonisation 
and the United Nations Commission of Human Rights.

Write to the Indonesian Embassy calling for the withdrawal of Indonesian 
troops from West Papua and peaceful dialogue over self-determination for 
the people of West Papua.

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Acknowledgements to Pacific Concerns Resource Centre, the Secretariat of the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific (NFIP) movement.

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